Emily Mace is speaking at the next brightonseo on the 22nd of April.
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked by people looking to kick-start their international digital marketing is about their domain strategy. Although there is no hard and fast solution to domain strategy there are some aspects from an SEO point of view which need to be considered.
The Pros and Cons
A lot has been spoken about the pros and cons of each domain strategy previously, but here’s a quick summary for you:
A sub domain, such as de.example.com is one of the most common methods that some CMS platforms use to deal with local market websites.
The pros of doing this include:
- Easy to set up with no extra domain registration costs
- Easy to set up and monitor in Google Analytics and Search Console (as well as targeting options in GSC)
- Some connection to the main domain from a link history perspective so it’s not as bad as starting from scratch in each market
- Each site can be hosted in a different location.
Potential cons include:
- There’s no automatic association between your sub domain and the country you are targeting so you’ll need to get your geotargeting correct
- Get your cross domain tracking in GA wrong and your analytics data could become a nightmare to manage.
Sub folders such as www.example.com/de work well as a method of promoting your website internationally, particularly if you have a long established, authoritative .com domain.
Benefits of this approach include:
- Links across your local language sites look like internal links and not external links
- You benefit for all the hard work on SEO performed previously to your .com domain
The downsides could include:
- Difficult to host websites in different locations which could impact speed in countries like China
- URLs can become more complicated if every page has an extra folder for the country name
The puritans’ choice, the ccTLD is often presented as the de facto best choice for people wanting to go international.
ccTLDs offer a number of benefits:
- Automatic association with a location – a .de domain is assumed to be a German website by default in Google.
- Some search engines historically favour these domains, such as Baidu and Yandex.
But the potential downsides should be considered:
- You’re starting again in each market with a clean domain that has no history in the search engines
- Not all of the ccTLDs for markets you want to expand into might be available, unless you are lucky enough to have a dev who registered them all some time ago
This is just a sample of some of the pros and cons of each approach but there are plenty of other factors that ought to be considered.
Your Current Domain
The first thing to consider is your current domain. This will help to shape where the strategy for your international marketing will lead.
If your current website is on a ccTLD such as a .co.uk domain then you will need to have new domains for any international websites. The reason for this is that the search engines automatically associate these country coded domains to the country of origin, so a .co.uk will be associated with the UK. This will make it considerably more difficult to get rankings in markets outside of the UK.
A ccTLD will also look slightly unnatural to people using a local version of Google and could lead to a lower click through rate for your website from the SERPs. A good example of this is the influx of .com.au search results we saw in the UK a few years ago, as well as annoying most of the SEO community (a lot) this leadto people not necessarily clicking through to the number 1 ranked website in Google. After all, if I see a .com.au site I know this is for Australia, so I’m likely to presume the content won’t relate to me. The same is true internationally, if you have a .co.uk website and manage to get rankings in Google.de, searchers in Germany are unlikely to think that your site relates to them.
The Search Landscape
One consideration for international domain selection is to ask the question, what are my competitors doing? Reviewing the competitor landscape is an important part of international expansion anyway, but when you’re looking at the search results and the competitor sites in each marketplace make sure you’re considering the domains you can see in the search results. If you’ve reviewed a basket of keywords in Russia and 90% of the sites for which you can see rankings are .ru ccTLD domains, then it’s probably a good idea to get a ccTLD yourself. If there’s lots of .com sites ranking however, then it’s safe to think that a .com domain could work for you in that market. This is particularly useful for Russia and China as we know that historically both Yandex and Baidu have shown a preference for local ccTLDs.
Another area to review is the technical implications of your domain strategy. Can your current CMS and development teams support the decisions you’ve made in terms of a domain choice? Making a decision without considering the technical implications could send you scurrying back to the drawing board when you discover that there’s a reason why sub folders won’t work with your current CMS; or that you will need a new license for each version of your site if you have a ccLTD rather than a sub domain or folder structure.
Remember to involve your development team in the process before you’ve made any decisions or got sign off from the powers that be.
There’s no right or wrong way to choose a domain strategy when going international but making sure you have considered all of the implications before committing to one approach over another could save you time, money and a lot of heart ache!